Are you ready for more cathedrals? I hope so, because I have a very special one to share with you today. Our last stop in the Midlands was to the town of Coventry, and the cathedral there shares a very important story. Coventry Cathedral is unique, in that while all the other ancient cathedrals and churches we visited managed to survive many wars, Coventry did not. Incendiary bombing during WWII burned out the beautiful medieval cathedral.
And all that was left among the smoke and ruins was the exterior walls… and a charred cross that was pulled out from the ashes.
The Bishop of the Cathedral walked among the wreckage that following morning (after struggling all night to put out the fires). He said two words that changed this church forever: Father forgive. This short and simple prayer gave new direction and mission to this church and since that day, Coventry Cathedral is a dedicated place of reconciliation. They share the message of hope that God has come to reconcile us to Himself through the forgiveness of sin and that through God’s grace people can also be reconciled to each other. Individual to individual, city to city, nation to nation… this church spearheaded a now-worldwide ministry that works to heal the wounds of war and partner cities with each other to rebuild and restore each other. Coventry itself partnered with Dresden at the end of the war to bring healing to the war-torn German town.
I was deeply moved by how beautifully this church has lived out the Gospel to the world in the days since WWII. Walking through the ruins was powerful – I almost wanted to take my shoes off because it felt so holy. Instead of finding bitterness, the ruins literally spoke of forgiveness. Instead of hatred, love dwelt here.
This poignant sculpture was dedicated in 1995, on the 50th Anniversary of the end of WWII and was donated as a token of reconciliation. A sister statue was gifted to the people of Japan by the people of Coventry and it sits in the Peace Garden of Hiroshima.
Inside the ruins are places for people to sit and reflect. And at the place where the altar stood, a replica of the charred cross is mounted (the real one is inside the new cathedral). On the day we visited, we had the opportunity to participate in the Litany of Reconciliation at the altar in the ruins. The priest shared the history of the cathedral and then said words which I’ve committed to remember always. He said: “Isn’t it glorious that the God we serve has the power to take experiences that leave us in ashes and transform them in ways we can’t imagine to further His kingdom of love and forgiveness”. Nowhere else in all the places we visited in England did I see the glory of God so clearly on display as in this place. Out of the depths of destruction, the people of this cathedral had the faith to believe God’s promise that “what the enemy meant for evil, God means for good.” That faith in God’s power and mercy propelled them into an attitude of forgiveness that has touched the world and empowered future generations to take up the call to live in God’s kingdom.
The cathedral was rebuilt on land adjacent to the ruins in the 1950s. This powerful sculpture stands outside the main entrance and depicts the Archangel Michael standing victorious over the chained devil. Again it speaks of a bold faith that knows God’s righteousness and love will ultimately triumph over all evil and will one day restore the world.
Inside the new cathedral, the feel is distinctly modern. The stained glass is abstract, but still beautiful – especially when the sun shines through and illuminates the colors.
One of the most striking aspect of the new cathedral is the wall of glass that overlooks the ruins. Etched into the glass are images of saints and angels. These were exquisitely strange and beautiful, ethereal and skeletal.
Our tour guide explained how the building itself tells the story of God’s redemption. You come from the ruins, which depict the destruction that sin causes, and enter the sanctuary in the company of the saints and angels (in the glass) with your eyes fixed on Jesus in faith (as shown in the image above as you look to the main altar. Your voyage up to the altar (as a metaphor of your journey of faith in this life) is marked by trials and hardship – this is reflected in the stark gray columns and the spiked imagery which reminds one of the nails and crown of thorns from the crucifixion.
Once you reach the altar, where communion is taken and is symbolic of the unity we will share with Christ in heaven, you turn around to look back at the path you’ve taken. Those gray columns you saw on the way up are transformed into brilliantly colored stained glass that paints the sanctuary in beautiful color.
In a similar way, we are promised in the Bible that our “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Again, I was amazed by the faith of this congregation that built the story of redemption and the promise of eternal reconciliation into the very walls of their new building.
Spending the day at Coventry was a deeply moving experience and one that I hope will stay hidden in my heart for the rest of my days. God’s power, grace, and forgiveness were so deeply etched in this place and in these people who carry on His work of reconciliation in a sin-sick, war-torn world. Being here challenged me to consider how deep my faith in God is and how far would I trust His promises when trials come. Like the people of Coventry, I pray that in such a time I would see a cross instead of ashes, and a redemption instead of ruins.
Blessings to you,